By 1860, war was inevitable. Anti-slavery forces in the northern and southern slaveholding states were at an impasse over the balance of political power, with southern states threatening to secede from the Union with the election of Abraham Lincoln. The Civil War years were a particularly contentious time in the U.S. The debate over slavery was more an issue of economic competition than racial oppression; southern slave owners feared the loss of wealth and political power, while European immigrants in the North were afraid that newly emancipated slaves would compete for jobs.
Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860; he pledged to pass homestead legislation and opposed the spread of slavery. His victory provoked South Carolina to secede from the Union.
Harriet Jacobs' autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, was published in 1861. The book chronicled Jacobs’ life under slavery and the seven years she spent hiding in an attic before making her escape to freedom.
The Emancipation Proclamation was published in northern newspapers in September of 1862. It freed slaves in Confederate states, but not border states or territories.
In 1863, the governor of Massachusetts began recruiting African Americans and formed the first black regiment — the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers.
In August 1863, a group of Confederate sympathizers led by William Quantrill invaded Lawrence, Kansas, the state that was the site of many bloody battles over slavery, and killed 180 people.
In November of that same year, Lincoln dedicated a Pennsylvania cemetery and delivered the Gettysburg address.
Race riots took place in Memphis and New Orleans in 1866. That same year the Ku Klux Klan was formed in Tennessee.
In 1870, Congress enacted the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1870 to stop southern white resistance to African American political gains under Reconstruction.